Saturday, 26 May 2012

A thought experiment about marriage

A world in which sexual intimacy could not produce children would never have come up with the idea of marriage.

couple-babyIn previous articles, I have asserted that if sex did not naturally lead to children, no one would ever have conceived the idea of marriage. My claim may be obvious to most people, but we live in a world in which people who never intend to have children get married; so, of course, do some people who want children but are infertile. In generations past, we felt compassion for those who married but did not have children, because it was presumed that they wanted children, since, after all, they married one another. No longer can we presume this. The era of contraception and surgical sterilization has altered the face, so to speak, of the childless couple, and consequently the face of the married couple.

The quest for same-sex marriage begins here. In a world where seeking marriage is seeking a community-endorsed way to have sex and bear children, the idea of same-sex marriage is like the idea of a square circle. The very idea of same-sex marriage is conceivable only in a world that is using the term “marriage” in a completely different way, to refer to something of a completely different nature.

Allow me, then, to make a case for my assertion about sex, children, and marriage through a “thought experiment”—a scenario in which human beings have no word for, no concept of, marriage.

Imagine a colony of young men who have no memory of ever having lived anywhere else. Properly speaking, the men do not even know that they are men, but only that they are different from all the other creatures they encounter. They hunt and gather. They are naturally social beings who care about each other, form friendships, try to please one another, generally live according to the rules, and have formulated various rites of initiation, celebration, and grief concerning the important moments of community life. These social beings find that certain things they do for one another cause pleasure, both physical and emotional. They tend to each other, rub each other’s feet when they are sore from the long hunt, hold and caress each other in times of sorrow and illness.

One day, two of the men announce that they are very special friends, because they really like each other’s company, help each other to be better, and they give each other especially good foot rubs. The members of the community are, of course, glad for them: friendships are important, and they all know the pleasures of a good foot rub between friends. These two, however, want to go further: they want to move off to a separate hut together, so they can experience their foot rubbing in private. They also wish to pool together their worldly resources, and to promise before the entire community that they will rub only each other’s feet until they die.

Though jaws have dropped, the pair is not finished. They want the community to validate the joining of their lives in this way, support them in their choice, and help them to remain faithful in their foot-rubbing exclusivity when they are tempted to do otherwise. They want a special ceremony to initiate their combined lives. But the community refuses: What is so important about close friendship and foot rubs that we need to form a special rite to acknowledge it? Do you really want us to force you to remain friends when things go sour? There is nothing in either friendship or the mutual giving of pleasure that requires the community’s input.

Now, the idea that any pair of these men would choose publicly endorsed exclusivity for enjoying the pleasures and closeness of foot rubbing sounds unlikely, even absurd. Nothing is enhanced for the pair of men by such exclusive activities, and there is nothing in it for the community to be bothered with.

Even had these men instead discovered (what we call) sexual pleasure, which is obviously more intense and more conducive to bonding than the best of foot rubs—and at times surprisingly urgent—the logic would remain the same: what they have discovered is an act which is very pleasurable, and which may help to strengthen friendships and express affection. But the same goes for back-scratching, being on a team, or working together on a project. There is nothing in this kind of act that would recommend exclusive relationships, let alone special community recognition.

Eventually, some bright fellow with philosophical leanings in the colony asks the question: What are these feelings for? Why the urgency? The leaders who first brought the men to the colony reply: “The answer lies over the mountains.” Those who want to find an answer begin their journey.

Over these mountains, there is a colony of young women. For their part, they know only women, though they do not know they are women, properly speaking. They gather and cultivate. Since they, like the men, are naturally social beings who care about each other, they also form friendships and have important religious and community ceremonies to mark important moments. They too find similar things useful, pleasurable, and comforting—including what we might call “sexual” pleasuring. So they do those things that are useful, comforting, affirming, caring, and pleasant.

Like the men—yet quite unlike the men—the women have parts of their bodies about which they cannot quite make sense. Why does our body do this? What is this longing all about? They are told: “Wait. The answer will come from over the mountains.”

Imagine the surprise when these two groups finally meet. Here are beings who, unlike any other creature on earth, but just like us, talk to one another, are intelligent, walk upright, gather things, build things, grow things, live in deliberate communities with rules. Yet they are so unlike us; their bodies are quite different in several obvious ways.

You can imagine that it would not take long for some enterprising couple to find the answer to their urges and longings in each other. Best of all, some of those peculiar organs fit together in an intensely pleasurable way. This does not mean that everyone in these two communities takes to this new kind of man-woman pleasure. Some are quite comfortable sticking with what they have always done; some men find the women, and some women find the men, too strange, too foreign to share this kind of intimacy. And so they continue in their old habits.

Despite the introduction of this new twist in giving pleasure and becoming closer as friends, the community has been presented with nothing qualitatively different from the status quo ante. They have discovered a new way of bringing pleasure. But ultimately, they can see no real difference between what they used to do in their isolated colonies, and what they now do in the mixed one. Neither the individual men and women, nor the community, is presented with any reason to treat these couplings as anything more than pleasure-inducing, friendship-building activities, like foot rubs or back scratches, playing games or working together.

But when, nine months later, the first baby is born, and the first mother nurses it, and the first father seeks to protect them both and care for them, the entire community would have a moment of recognition: So this is what these urges and these bodies are for!

Under these conditions, it would make sense for the whole community, and its individual members, to recognize this momentous event for what it is. From these bodies, male and female, through this act, a child is brought forth into the world—a child who needs to be protected, nourished, and taught. The community now has a reason to say several things: First, this act that we men and women have been doing together is an act that has extraordinary consequences for the whole community—consequences that our acts alone or in the previously isolated communities did not have. Second, it has extraordinary implications for the couple who have received both a gift for which they yearn to care, and a grave responsibility. Third, it has serious implications for the child, who finds herself born into the world, in need of care, education, and the security of knowing who she is, where she comes from, and where she is going. Fourth, now that they see what their bodies and urges are for, the members of the community understand that their earlier acts were in fact an improper use of their bodies and a misplacement of their longings (though none of this was their fault, given the incompleteness of their information).

Thus, it is in the interest of the community, the couple, and most especially the child that human sexuality be protected and nurtured such that it will be used aright. For this reason, entering into a sexual relationship with a member of the opposite sex is a matter of great importance for the community and the couple, worthy of a rite of recognition and acceptance, of being made secure in and by the community, and of rules governing their sexual practice. It is only here that the notion of marriage can be brought forth—not from the desires of the couple for recognition, not from feelings of affection and closeness, but in the face of the reality of human sexuality.

Of course, this story is a thought experiment, not history. It illustrates that it is within the realm of human experience for human beings to form bonds of friendship that are centered in, and enhanced by, mutually pleasant acts. But it also illustrates the unreasonableness of the notion of marriage in a world where a pleasurable act cannot, by its nature, lead to children; in other words, it shows the unreasonableness of marriage being merely about the desires, pleasures, and affirmation of adults—the contemporary conception of marriage.

A contemporary characterization of marriage looks like this: (1) two people (2) with great affection for each other (including, generally, desires for deeper knowledge, interpersonal closeness, and mutual care) (3) also want to have sex together, so (4) they consent to combine their lives materially and economically, and (5) to have sex only with each other, (6) with the ritual recognition, endorsement, and support (often material) of the community. Since same-sex couples can meet the first five criteria as easily as opposite-sex couples, how can society refuse the sixth? If the list above fully describes the proper relationship between sex and marriage—sex is just a deeper expression of personal affection and friendship, and marriage is an arrangement concerned with nothing more than this—then we must acknowledge that same-sex couples are just as capable of marriage as opposite-sex couples.

But this is where it must be pointed out that the act in which opposite-sex couples wish to engage has a very public outcome: children. Let me put my initial assertion another way: if sexual intercourse between a man and a woman always and naturally led to the same outcome as genital contact between two people of the same sex—that is, pleasure, increased feelings of closeness, even affirmation and love, and nothing else—no one would ever have come up with the idea of marriage.

The best that can be said about the contemporary face of “marriage”—the deliberately childless union, or union built around the desires of adults, with children a secondary and dispensable characteristic—is that it is entirely parasitic on the proper idea of marriage. Impossible to imagine on its own, it takes real marriage and strips it of the thing that gives it meaning, yet continues to refer to it by the same name. That means that the notion of “same-sex marriage,” which relies entirely for its conceivability on the notion that marriage exists for the desires of adults, is by that fact two levels removed from reasonableness.

Stephen J. Heaney is associate professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas. This article is reproduced from The Public Discourse with permission.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

11:11:21 AM
A more religious future?

I’m reminded this morning of a comment that a Catholic friend of mine made to me in the past.  When discussing “culture wars” issues (abortion, gay marriage etc) this friend said (at least a couple of times) that “in the end, we will win. Catholics have bigger families. Those who have strong family values have bigger families. Those who don’t, don’t. In a couple of generations we’ll out breed them. If you don’t embrace a culture of life, don’t be surprised when your views don’t survive.”  These comments came back to me as I was reading this report from The American online magazine entitled “The Future Will be More Religious and Conservative Than You Think”.  What is the author basing this title/conclusion on? Demography my dear boy, demography!

The report starts off with the 2012 Presidential Election (2008 seems just like yesterday – whatever happened to John McCain?) and notes that switching parties is becoming less common and therefore party growth is driven by population growth.  So who has the demographic advantage?

“Ruy that the growth of the college-educated, secular and Hispanic proportion of the population will soon provide the Democrats with an inbuilt electoral majority...On the other side of the ledger, American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks highlights the role of fertility: ‘Liberals have a big baby problem: They're not having enough of them, they haven't for a long time, and their pool of potential new voters is suffering as a result.’ ‘In Seattle,” adds Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation, ‘there are nearly 45 percent more dogs than children. In Salt Lake City, there are nearly 19 percent more kids than dogs.’”

As the demographic numbers stand at the moment, the contest seems pretty even.  Republican women and Democratic women have about the same number of children, Democrats are slightly younger, but have an edge when it comes to immigration. (This assumes that immigrants will continue to vote along current ethnic voting lines and that immigration will continue at current levels).  However, in the future current trends will have a larger impact on the gap in voter numbers:

“However, Republican fertility is not a dead letter: the GOP has a lead over the Democrats among white women and among younger women at all levels of income and education. If the childbearing gap among women aged 20-40 continues to widen, this will certainly benefit the GOP. But even if Republican women enjoyed a 30 percent fertility advantage for a century, this would only halve the gains accruing to the Democrats from immigration. Were immigration to be cut in half, however, the GOP would quickly begin to close in on the Democrats beyond 2040.”

What is driving this fertility gap is religion.  Democrats are generally more secularist and have fewer children than their more religious counterparts in the GOP.  What is sometimes called the “second demographic transition” is a fundamentalist religious backlash to the challenge of modernist secularism.  While this may not play out along party lines completely, it is likely that socially conservative views will grow more popular – by the end of this century it is predicted that the pro-life majority will be about 75% of the population in the US.

This second demographic transaction is not just a US phenomenon.  The report notes the growth of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel since independence.  In the Muslim world, women most in favour of sharia law have twice the birth rate of women who are most opposed.  While in Europe and the US, the people who self-identify with “no religion” are leading the way to sub-replacement fertility.

“In most of Europe, the nonreligious average around one child per woman. In the United States, they manage 1.5, considerably lower than the national 2.1... Projections I [Eric Kaufmann] recently published with Skirbekk and Goujon in the journal Sociology of Religion show secularism losing momentum and beginning to decline in both Europe and America by 2050, largely because of low fertility and religious immigration.”

The report concludes in a thought-provoking way:

“...we forget that most people get their religion the old-fashioned way: through birth. Demography is not destiny, but it is the most predictable of the social sciences. As the population of the world peaks and begins to decline later in this century, the strongly religious will stand against the tide. In so doing, they will remake societies and wash away many of our certainties about secularization, Enlightenment, and the End of History.”

Many in the West may be currently proclaiming that “God is dead!” but according to this report, I may live to see a time when God rises from the dead...a not unheard of event.  Perhaps my friend really was right about the outcome of the current culture wars? 

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

It’s only natural

The bitterest debates today in the public square often turn on what is "natural". The Chinese sages had a lot to say about this.

A common argument against same-sex marriage is that it is ‘unnatural’. But without qualification, such an argument is pointless. What do people mean when they call something ‘unnatural’? Do they mean ‘unusual’, ‘abnormal’, or ‘ugh! I don’t like it!’? Do they mean ‘it doesn’t happen in the animal kingdom!’ or ‘it can’t happen without human interference!’? Perhaps they mean ‘it contains synthetic products!’ or ‘it was built in a factory!’?

As an ethicist, I draw on a system of ethics known as ‘Natural Law theory’. The theory dates back to Aristotle, was developed by Thomas Aquinas, and has, in recent decades undergone a resurgence and reinterpretation. So I have an interest in the use of the words ‘natural’ and ‘nature’ with regard to ethical issues. Unfortunately the confusion over these words is such that many people find the whole concept of Natural Law theory preposterous. (I know I did.) How can there be ‘laws of nature’ with regard to ethics? Isn’t the whole point that the freedom of the human will defies any laws of nature? If there were laws of nature regarding ethics, then surely we wouldn’t have any choice but to obey them?

Naturally, I want to set the record straight. Now please hold still while I correct you:

How vast is God, the ruler of men below! How arrayed in terrors is God, with many things irregular in his ordinations! Heaven gave birth to the multitudes of the people, but the nature it confers is not to be depended on. All are [good] at first, but few prove themselves to be so at the last.

Can you guess the origins of this quotation? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not biblical, it’s not Jewish; it’s not from the Middle East, but from the Far one. The text comes from the ancient Chinese Book of Odes, a collection of 311 poems dating from 1000 BC to 476 BC. This passage conveys an impression of God (上帝Shang Di: the supreme Emperor) which might seem familiar to a Western audience. But the use of the word ‘nature’ is probably less familiar. The German Sinologist Richard Wilhelm explained this Chinese perspective well:

‘Man has received from heaven a nature innately good, to guide him in all his movements. By devotion to this divine spirit within himself, he attains an unsullied innocence that leads him to do right with instinctive sureness and without any ulterior thought of reward and personal advantage. This instinctive certainty brings about supreme success and "furthers through perseverance". However, not everything instinctive is nature in this higher sense of the word, but only that which is right and in accord with the will of heaven. Without this quality of rightness, an unreflecting, instinctive way of acting brings only misfortune. Confucius says about this: "He who departs from innocence, what does he come to? Heaven's will and blessing do not go with his deeds. "’

This concept of nature is by no means peculiar to Chinese thought. As theetymology shows: ‘nature’ comes from ‘natus’ meaning ‘born’, as in ‘the characteristics a person or thing is born with’. In the era of medieval philosophy the word took on its more abstract and refined connotations such as "essential qualities, innate disposition".

When we hear people claim that something is ‘unnatural’ they are (or ought to be) speaking in terms of the qualities or disposition that we are born with. But use of such terms as ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ in the present culture is often confused with a different philosophical notion of ‘nature’ as ‘the great outdoors’, ‘mother nature’, or ‘stuff animals do.’ This basic interpretation of nature simply defines it as everything that is not produced by human effort or ingenuity. A natural lake stands in contradistinction to a man-made lake. Natural light is distinguished from artificial light – the product of human artifice. This alternate meaning of ‘nature’ can also be embellished and romanticised such that the term ‘natural’ can even bestow a quasi-mystical form of approval; while describing something as ‘unnatural’ is to condemn it as somehow misbegotten, malformed, dangerous, or toxic.

So we have three closely related concepts, presented here in suspected order of development:

1. Nature as the essential qualities of a thing
2. Nature as distinct from human activity
3. Nature as a quasi-mystical force or principle

First, things have their own nature or essential qualities. Secondly, we observe that human beings have the ability to choose how they will act; our actions can either accord with, or conflict with our own essential qualities or nature. Humans have, for example, discovered that inhaling smoke into our lungs on a regular basis is not conducive to our health, even though it might feel good.

Not only can we act against our own nature, we can also subvert or alter other things against their own nature: thus we domesticate animals, make furniture from the wood of trees, cook food to make it more palatable, and so on. It is not, strictly speaking, in the nature of animals to behave domestically, nor of trees to act as tables, nor for various foods to be altered by the heat of cooking. Hence, we distinguish between ‘natural’ as the way things are without human interference, and ‘man-made’ or ‘artificial’ for those things whose properties are dependent upon human intervention.

Thirdly, this distinction between the world without human interference and the world with human interference has taken on a moral or quasi-mystical aspect. We have grown weary of our own artifice, and suspicious of the value of our interventions. A recent history of man-made disasters, the creation of toxic, radioactive, and otherwise dangerous substances, and even the aesthetic misery of many urban human environments have all contributed to the impression that the natural world is superior to that produced through human intervention. Natural wonders are achieving greater significance than man-made wonders. Natural processes from environmental management to childbirth are attributed an almost spiritual quality found lacking in more artificial processes. Rightly or wrongly, natural ingredients and products seem inherently favourable over synthetic or man-made ones. We feel nature can be trusted; human beings, not so much.

So what about human nature, the ‘essential qualities’ of a human being?

In the Chinese context, human nature puts us in a precarious position. Our own nature or ‘essential qualities’ are conferred by Heaven; even in modern Chinese the phrase for ‘nature’ with regard to innate human characteristics is 天性 where the first character stands for ‘heaven’ and the second stands more generically for ‘nature’, ‘character’ or ‘gender’. In fact the second character is itself composed of the character 心for ‘heart’, and the character 生for ‘birth’ or ‘to be born’, which, as we saw, correlates nicely with the Latin root of ‘nature’ being ‘natus’ meaning ‘born’. Human nature can be described as that which is in one’s heart 心 from birth 生 bestowed by heaven 天。

Nevertheless we read in the Book of Odes that “the nature it confers is not to be depended on [since] all are [good] at first, but few prove themselves to be so at the last.” In other words, despite the fact that our nature is good and is conferred by heaven, people still turn out bad in the end. This is because human beings have the freedom to choose: we can follow our nature for the good, or we can turn against it for ill.

As our German Sinologist elaborated: “not everything instinctive is nature in this higher sense of the word, but only that which is right and in accord with the will of heaven.” We find ourselves troubled by seemingly ‘natural’ desires that are in conflict with one another. Likewise we find ourselves desiring things that we know simply cannot be part of our nature. Hence the objective qualifier that we must act in accordance with the will of heaven, that which conferred our nature in the first place.

The theologically savvy may have noticed that these concepts rather neatly parallel the Judeo-Christian perspective in which human beings were created good by God, but have gone awry from the created order through disobedience to God’s will. But this particular interpretation of the human predicament is heavily laden with centuries of religious and cultural baggage. The apparent religious drama of clashing human and divine wills and personalities unfortunately lends itself to an indignant adolescent interpretation in which God is perceived to be a domineering father figure whom we loathe and fear; someone more powerful than us who implicitly demands our servility and stands in opposition to our individual desires. In the interests of avoiding such emotional trigger-words as ‘commandments’ ‘disobedience’ and ‘punishment’, let us instead examine the following analogy.  

Imagine you are a skilled robotic engineer, who has created a fully functional humanoid robot. Since you are also a fictional engineer, you have found it easily within your power to grant your robot the ability to pick and choose its own courses of action.

You install a list of guidelines for all the important things: remember to recharge regularly, do not immerse in water, do not drop, do not use if seal is broken, and so on. Of course, you could have ‘hardwired’ these instructions, but that would obviate the sheer coolness of a robot that has to decide not to drop itself repeatedly on its head, rather than being directly programmed not to. So although the robot has the ability to choose its own course of action, it is theoretically constrained by the nuances of its own nature.

Despite these instructions, the robot is still entirely capable of choosing to stand outside in the rain, drop itself from a height, or fail to recharge itself. If it ignores the instructions, it will be damaged. No need to talk about commands, punishments, or obedience.

This analogy illustrates the common points of the Chinese and Judeo-Christian view of human nature regarding our freedom to choose our own course of action. We have free will; we can use it however we like. But we are constrained by the logical limits of our own essential qualities. Tall people like me are constrained by stupidly low kitchen benches. Short people are constrained by wall cabinets placed at a reasonable height. One person cannot be both short and tall at the same time in the same way. We should therefore choose things that are suited to our nature.
In ethics, choosing things in accordance with our nature is known as ‘natural law’. Unfortunately, whenever an ethicist uses the term ‘natural law’ a certain proportion of his audience pictures an apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton’s head. We are used to hearing of ‘natural laws’ or ‘laws of nature’ in regard to physics rather than ethics. Yet it should come as no surprise to hear that human beings are subject to both physical laws as well as ethical ones. It is in the nature of human beings that our bodies are subject to the force of gravity; and we call this a physical law of nature. It is likewise in the nature of human beings that to choose to subject oneself to the force of gravity from a great height is not good for one’s continued survival, let alone one’s further flourishing. We call this an ethical law of human nature.

At this point, some are liable to object: how can it be an ethical law of nature, if we are free to break it? We aren’t free to break the law of gravity, after all.

But this objection misunderstands what the law is about. The ethical law does not say “You cannot throw yourself off a building”, rather it says “suicide is incompatible with human flourishing” and leaves you to work out for yourself the implications with regard to falling from a great height.

This is why human beings come undone. We are free to choose our course of action, yet we ought to heed the constraints of our own nature, our essential qualities. Instead, we desire things that cut against the grain of our nature. We find ourselves adapting to habits, beliefs, cravings, yearnings, a whole way of life with no foundation in human nature or the way of heaven. This is the predicament identified by the Chinese philosophers.

Another ancient Chinese text, the Book of Rites, depicts the tragedy of human existence under the power of unregulated desire:

‘Now there is no end of the things by which man is affected; and when his likings and dislikings are not subject to regulation (from within), he is changed into the nature of things as they come before him; that is, he stifles the voice of Heavenly principle within, and gives the utmost indulgence to the desires by which men may be possessed. On this we have the rebellious and deceitful heart, with licentious and violent disorder. The strong press upon the weak; the many are cruel to the few; the knowing impose upon the dull; the bold make it bitter for the timid; the diseased are not nursed; the old and young, orphans and solitaries are neglected - such is the great disorder that ensues.’

The remedy, laid out in the very beginning of the Book of Rites, is a simple yet profound prescription:

'Pride should not be allowed to grow; the desires should not be indulged; the will should not be gratified to the full; pleasure should not be carried to excess.'

Our culture has known this prescription for thousands of years; yet at certain times including our contemporary culture, its guidance has been ignored. Our modern culture conflates this guidance with the negative image of our religious history as a repressive, domineering force. We are now quietly encouraged to let our pride grow, to indulge our desires, to gratify our will to the full and carry pleasure to excess; all under the auspices of rebellion against false religious servility.  

Zac Alstin works at the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Adelaide, South Australia.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Law professor says flawed view of sex threatens religious freedom :
May 18, 2012
Helen M. Alvare, law professor at George Mason University.

.- A law professor at George Mason University believes that current threats to religious freedom are intrinsically connected to the modern understanding that “sexual freedom is about shaping yourself.”

Helen Alvaré, who has formerly worked with the U.S. bishops' pro-life office, spoke on May 10 at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C. She observed that many modern threats to religious freedom “are coming by way of a newly strong government position on human sexuality.”

This view holds that sex is unrelated to procreation or the union of man and woman, but is simply about “expressing oneself” and forming one’s identity through various sexual acts, she explained.
Alvaré traced this understanding of sexuality through court decisions in the last 50 years.

In 1965, the Supreme ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that the Constitution implicitly protects the “right to marital privacy” and that married couples therefore have a right to contraception. At this point, Alvaré observed, the union of the married couple was still intact in the understanding of sex.

By 1992, however, the court upheld the “right” to abortion by describing sexual decisions as a means of shaping one’s identity, she said.

In its Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the plurality opinion affirmed “the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

At this point, Alvaré said, sex has been “completely disconnected from the other person” and is solely about expressing oneself and building identity.

This view is reflected today, she explained, pointing to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S., which distributes information to young people encouraging them to explore and express themselves in different sexual ways.

This disconnected idea of sexual expression as an individual right can also be seen in a careful reading of the court cases supporting a redefinition of marriage, Alvaré added. In these court opinions, “same-sex marriage is not about the two people in the marriage. It’s about the individual expressing themself sexually.”

It is in this context that the Obama administration’s contraception mandate comes into being, with “no hesitation in divorcing sex from everything” that it physically, emotionally and spiritually means, she continued.

The mandate has been heavily criticized as a major threat to religious freedom because it will require employers to offer health insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their religious beliefs.

Alvaré views the mandate as a “culmination” of a view of sexuality that has become more and more disconnected from marriage, procreation and the natural unity of man and woman.

She explained that this way of thinking began with the argument that taking the babies out of sex would allow couples to flourish, women to escape poverty and children to avoid being raised in bad situations.
But this has changed drastically, in a way that is evident by the “models of freedom” used to defend the contraception mandate, she said.

Rather than a woman facing poverty or a married couple overwhelmed by a dozen kids, the iconic figures in the sexual freedom debate today are unmarried, highly educated, and fairly well-off financially.

She pointed to Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who has become a leading figure in the push for free birth control.

These women are not talking about marriage, poverty or the wellbeing of children, Alvaré observed. Rather, they are simply saying that they want a regular sex life with a constant supply of contraception, and they want someone else to pay for it.

This “right to a commitment-free, child-free sexual experience” has become so elevated that no religious conscience is permitted to object to it, she said, explaining that when disconnected sexual expression becomes a basic and fundamental right, religious liberty suffers.

This can be seen today, as Catholic individuals and institutions are told that they shouldn’t “even be able to have a critical stance” on issues such as contraception, she said.

She also observed that proponents of the mandate are making claims of a “war on women” and using “language of discrimination,” as if religious individual seeking to follow their conscience were violent members of the Ku Klux Klan, who should not have a voice in the public square.

The Catholic Church’s idea of sexuality as being connected to marriage and new life is “absolutely contrary” to the modern understanding, Alvaré explained.

As Catholics step up to defend religious freedom, she noted, they also have a chance to help change the way that human sexuality is viewed.

“I really see this time as an opportunity,” she said.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

2:24:05 PM
Australian doctors group opposes law change
Kuruvilla GeorgeA senior mental health professional in Australia is being hauled over the coals for signing a submission opposing same-sex marriage. A federal Senate inquiry was receiving submissions on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 up until April 2, and Professor Kuravilla George, Deputy Chief Psychiatrist of the state of Victoria and on the board of the state Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, signed one from the group Doctors for the Family, along with 149 other doctors.

The submission, headed by Perth GP Dr Lachlan Dunjey, was motivated by concern for the health of children growing up in same-sex headed households,reports ABC News Radio.

"It's well proven that children who grow up with a mother and a father in a biological mother-and-father family do better than children who don't have the opportunity to grow up in that kind of family," he said.

But the Australian Medical Association president has contradicted the group’s claim, saying, "There is a growing body of evidence that says there's no difference in their psychological development, their general health, their sexual orientation." Dr Steve Hambleton says the opinions expressed by Doctors for the Family do not reflect the views of the wider medical community.

Gay and Green MPs have, of course, have attacked the submission -- one of a representative sample of 358 (from a total of 75,000) published on theinquiry website -- calling it “stupid” and discriminatory.

As for Professor George (pictured), word on Sunday was that Victoria’s Mental Health Minister was seeking an urgent explanation from the former’s boss over her deputy’s decision to join forces with Doctors for the Family. Monday we read that the state’s Deputy Premier Peter Ryan had absolved Prof George of all fault since he made his submission in a private capacity.
Today Prof George resigned from the HREO commission.

Would there have been the same fuss, and outcome, if he had signed up to the Psychologists for Marriage Equality submission?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Problem with Same-Sex “Marriage”

by Krystle Weeks
May 10, 2012

There has been a lot of media coverage focusing on same-sex “marriage” recently.  With voters in North Carolina turning out overwhelmingly for traditional marriage and President Barack Obama declaring his support for same-sex “marriage,” there is no doubt that this issue will be at the forefront for the near future.  It is crucial to inform your friends and family about same-sex “marriage” and its dangers to the family by watching this documentary.

“The Problem with Same-sex Marriage:  How It Will Affect You and Your Children” brings in marriage, family and homosexual experts to talk about what happens when marriage is redefined.  You can also order the documentary online.

Friday, 4 May 2012

More Educated Women opting to have Families

Many people I talk to are worried that it seems to them that the ‘wrong’ sort of people are having all the babies – those who are not in stable relationships or who are, rightly or wrongly, perceived to have lower morals and to be less educated.  Concerns are voiced especially among my parents' age group (in their 50's) who generally had their babies earlier. 

This is largely because more educated young people often feel that having a baby will interrupt their hard earned career paths, or they simply settle down later after finishing university, establishing a career, travelling, buying a house, finding a similarly educated partner willing to marry them!, setting themselves up well financially, etc. and then find that they can only have one or two children (often using some sort or fertility treatment) or that they can’t have them at all.  

However, this phenomenon is not actually all that new according to a recent study.  Childlessness among college-educated women actually peaked in the 1990’s, when about 30 percent had no children, according to a new analysis of U.S. data (although I assume less women overall actually went to university then).  Now for the first time a recent study has found that a greater number of highly educated women in their late 30’s and 40’s in the United States are deciding to have children, something that Newswise describes as ‘a dramatic turnaround from recent history’ in an interesting article based on a new study by Ohio University (reportedhere in the Journal of Population Economics).  In fact, fertility increased at almost all ages since the late 1990s or 2000 across all groups of women studied.

Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and professor of economics at Ohio State University comments in the article that:

“One of the major economic stories of the second half of the 20th century was that highly educated women were working more and having fewer children. It is too early to definitively say that trend is over, but there is no doubt we have seen fertility rise among older, highly educated women.” 

It is not clear from this research whether women are actually leaving their jobs to have children or are employing childcare, but it is clear that they are increasingly opting to have a family – and that’s surely positive for the future of our society.   

It is interesting that the findings on women’s fertility were very different depending on education level – giving some weight to my mother’s friend’s concerns. However, Qingyan Shang, an assistant professor at the State University of New York and the first author of the study, reports that the numbers of children are not actually all that different: “For the less educated women, it is more a story about the timing of their fertility. They are having their children earlier now than they used to, but they are not having any more children overall,” he said.

The study notes that, with the data available, there is no completely accurate way to calculate how many older women are using fertility treatments to achieve this higher fertility – and of course fertility treatment often results in twins and triplets so more babies.  In their analysis, the researchers found that multiple birth rates began increasing around 1990 - especially among highly educated older women, who would probably be most likely to be using fertility treatments. Among college-graduate women in their early 40s, the multiple birth rate more than tripled from 1990 to 2006.

However, the researchers insist that the use of fertility treatments is not the only cause of the new trend so perhaps some of it really is women going back to good old fashioned families.  Dare we be so quaint!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The Marriage Diversity Conundrum

Even the most disinterested life-form would be defeated by the marriage diversity agenda.

lostEven a fungus living under a rock would probably not have escaped exposure to the Great Marriage Debate that is going on at the moment. From the point of view of the fungus, however, it would be a perplexing scene. It would see a tremendous argument going on about access to a public institution which would seem to be about as reliable as a Sydney bus timetable. You might even compare it to passengers squabbling over who gets a seat in the electric chair.

With around a third of marriages in Western countries ending in divorce and an increasing number of people not even bothering with marriage, it is not surprising is that we are seriously questioning the significance of marriage. What is surprising is that the right to get married has simultaneously become a global human rights issue.

There are those who doggedly stick to the idea that marriage is a “voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”. There is some implication here that marriage has a reproductive significance and that it is somehow good for society to encourage men and women to get together on a permanent basis and to raise children together.

Then there are those who want the definition of marriage to change to something like “the voluntary union for life of two people, to the exclusion of all others”. In other words, the real significance of marriage is the love and emotional attachment between two people.

At this point the lowly fungus may become more confused. It could be excused for thinking that this was an incredibly narrow debate about a much bigger issue. It might even suggest that the view from under its rock was broader than the perspective offered here.

The fungus is usually asexual, but let’s say it made a study of our reproductive ways. This assiduous fugus, now acquainted with the relatively brief history of humans, would see that under either definition, marriage would remain the monolithic institution it has been in the past. But it would see that contemporary society gives priority to diversity, choice, and convenience. So what was needed was an understanding of marriage that would apply these ideals to human relationships.

Acquiring a basic understanding of human law, the fungus would realise that what was needed was a much more flexible Marriage Act, or acts, that enabled humans to form marriage contracts suitable to their circumstances. The fungus, being a political animal, might come up with its own modest proposal for marriage, aimed at accommodating all sides and more in keeping with the brave new world it sees around it. The Marriage Choices Act 2012 would include:

Choice A (Classic Menu): Marriage unit formed by a voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.

Choice B (Temporally Delimited): Marriage unit formed by a voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for a limited period (from days, perhaps even hours, up to years) with provision for renewal at the expiry of an agreed time. This choice should also explore temporally recurrent options (weekends only, during summers only, etc.) There is provision for this kind of marriage in Shia Islam, I believe.

Choice C (Spatially Delimited): Marriage unit formed by a voluntary union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others, with effect within a particular location, be it city, state, territory or country -- the “girl in every port” option. For legal purposes it would of course be preferable if these locations be already legally circumscribed. Choice D (Choices Plus): A mutually agreed upon combination of B and C above.
Choice E (Gay Marriage): Marriage unit formed by a voluntary union for life of two persons, to the exclusion of all others.

Choices F-H (Gay Choices Plus): Equivalent of choices B-D but applicable to Choice E.

Choice I (Free For All): Any of the above, removing the provision “to the exclusion of all others”.
The last, admittedly, would be be the most controversial of the choices listed. But our fungal friend would realise that words such as “polygamy” and “polyandry” are pejorative only in the context of a culture in which lifelong heterosexual monogamy was the enforced norm. And that is not a culture the fungus would have us return to.

The benefits of the Marriage Choices bill go further than the promotion of choice and flexibility within marriage. By defining marriage as a contract of emotional commitment, sex and children become purely extraneous. They will be matters to be resolved, if necessary, between the marriage unit and its lawyers. There would be no legal objection to so-called "open marriages", nor to the procurement of children (whether in vivo, in vitro or otherwise) outside of the marriage unit. For the asexual fungus, what do sex and children have to do with emotional commitment?

Certain things, however, would strike a being so close to nature as self-evident. Scientific reasons alone would preclude a marriage unit formed by closely related parties. It would find common sense reasons for rejecting the obviously facetious suggestion of Sneaky Sound System lead singer Connie Mitchell: "If you want to get married, you should be able to get married to whoever you want - and that includes marrying a goat if you feel like it."

Our clever fungus may take some time to come to terms with our modern concept of “discrimination”. It would obviously attempt to eliminate any source of discrimination in the legislation itself, referring to marriage “units” rather than “couples” and perhaps listing the choices in a less hierarchical way (a, alpha, alef, etc.)
Appropriate laws would dissuade other forms of discrimination and any that persisted might be fairly hard to remove. If choice and diversity is what we want we might just need to live with it.

If we then protested that financial institutions, adoption agencies, and double bed salesman discriminated against marriage units based on their marriage choices, the fungus may well throw up its hands and crawl back under its rock. Never again would it complain about its asexual existence.

Phillip Elias is a Sydney doctor. He is a board member of the New Media Foundation which sponsors MercatorNet.